Judge Watson says the sentencing of Stewart Stant is meant to send a message to the public.

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson on Wednesday sentenced former Maui Environmental Management Director Stewart Stant to 10 years in federal prison for his role in directing nearly $20 million in sole source contracts to one wastewater company.

Prosecutors called it the largest bribery case in Hawaii history.

Stant, 56, spent at least six years taking about $2 million worth of bribes from H2O Process Systems CEO Milton Choy, who also bribed at least one other Maui County employee and two former state lawmakers. Watson said that Stant’s sentence is meant to send a message to public officials that abusing their powers won’t be tolerated.

“I shake my head,” Watson said. “No one embraces a career in public service because they believe that’s the path to living like Jeff Bezos.”

Stewart Olani Stant arrives at District Court.
Stewart Stant was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Stant and his attorney, Cary Virtue, declined to talk to reporters after the sentencing hearing.

During the hearing, Stant said that he regrets what he did. He said he always tried to work hard and instill those values in his daughter while he raised her as a single father.

“I’m truly sorry,” he told Watson.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson said that Stant’s behavior was “outrageous on every front.”

“We’re talking about a man selling and betraying the public trust for his own benefit,” Sorenson told reporters outside the federal courthouse.

During the sentencing hearing, Watson had equally harsh words for Stant and harangued him for his behavior. Watson would not accept requests from Virtue, the U.S. Probation Office and federal prosecutors for a lower sentence.

Virtue asked the court for a sentence between 68 months to 89 months while Sorenson asked the court to look at the lower end of federal sentencing guidelines in this case, which ranged from 108 months to 135 months.

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson

Watson said he wasn’t moved by the dozens of letters Stant’s friends and family wrote to the court, testifying to his good character.

He pointed out that Stant used the bribery payments to spend years “living a really party lifestyle.”

Stant bought a Rolex watch among other luxury items and used the bribes to pay for his mortgage, stay in expensive Las Vegas hotel rooms, and dine at high-end restaurants. Those weren’t the result of just one misstep, but rather the product of “hundreds” of bad decisions Stant made over the years, Watson said.

“You were living like a king,” Watson told Stant. “I hope you enjoyed those years living that lifestyle.”

Watson believes that Stant’s cooperation with federal prosecutors was also self-serving.

“What can I do to better this situation for myself?” Watson said. “Helping yourself is something you’ve done a lot of.”

Watson did not levy a fine against Stant but did order him to pay back $1.9 million, equal to the amount of bribes he took.

Sorenson said that if Stant can’t pay the forfeiture amount, then the government can put a lien “on any interests he has, on Maui or otherwise.”

Virtue told the court that Stant has a background as an electrician and plans to work as one after his prison sentence is over. He’ll be 66 by the time his sentence is over.

Watson ordered Stant to surrender himself on April 6 before 2 p.m. He’ll serve his prison sentence in the Federal Correctional Institution, Sheridan in Oregon, the same facility where former Maui lawmaker J. Kalani English is currently serving a three year sentence in a similar bribery case.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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